How to exercise your rights of protest

Introduction

If for whatever reason you want to voice your political opinions publicly, it is important that you are aware of any limitations that are imposed on you.

The NEW ZEALAND BILL OF RIGHTS ACT 1990 gives every New Zealander the right to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly. However, these freedoms are not absolute: they are limited by other people's rights as well as by other reasonable limitations that can be justified in a democratic state.

Planning a demonstration

When planning a peaceful demonstration you should inform the Police of your intention. They will be able to inform you whether the local authority for your particular area requires permits for public demonstrations. If so, you will need to obtain a permit, which may have conditions attached to it.

The general practice is to allow the use of placards as long as they are not too large and are not obstructive.

When can the Police intervene in a demonstration?

The Police can intervene in a demonstration if the behaviour of any demonstrators amounts to an offence. Commonly this includes:

  • obstructing or assaulting Police officers
  • breaching the peace
  • offensive behaviour or language

Public meetings

If a public meeting is held indoors the Police have no special right to attend, unless they are specifically invited. However, the Police may enter if they have reasonable grounds for believing that there is a breach of the peace.

Interjections at public meetings

If you interject at a public meeting you may be removed if you are in fact drowning out the speaker and thereby infringing his or her rights of expression. This is distinct from ordinary heckling, which is allowable.

Cautionary notes
  • If you are arrested it is important that you consult a lawyer immediately so that you are aware of your rights (see How to: Facing criminal charges).


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